Keith: The Gonzaga/Michigan Twitter wars have been raging for several days now and it has been amusing to watch from afar. So, my question for you gents is why does Michigan stink and who will they lose to in the first round?
JUST KIDDING! While the focus of late has been on which of those two squads should be the No. 1 team in the country, my real question to each of you is whether you would prefer to see Michigan or Baylor in a hypothetical national championship game?
PW: I’d like to see Baylor play another post-COVID stoppage game before truly answering that. My gut is that its Baylor, because for the entirety of the year, Baylor has been either the best team, or the second best team, swapping back and forth with Gonzaga. You cannot deny how impressive Michigan has been as of late, and as we all know, often times in March, the best teams throughout the entirety of the year are not the teams that are cutting down the nets. That said, I think either opponent gives you an amazing game. Personally, I’d probably still choose Baylor, just because I think they will right the ship in no time, look like they could beat Gonzaga five times out of 10 games, and then it would complete the circle of the “Who is better?” question we have all been asking since the game was cancelled in December.
KY: The team this Gonzaga squad gets compared to quite frequently is the 2017-2018 Villanova team that ran roughshod through the NCAA Tournament and demolished Michigan (the irony) in the championship game, so there would be some symmetry (and satisfaction after these last few days) in following that blueprint. But for me, despite their form since returning from their COVID-pause, the preferred final is also against Baylor. They can switch 1 through 5 on defense thanks to Mark Vital’s versatility and everyone knows about their backcourt. I simply think the Bears are a better squad and their personnel would present some very interesting (and difficult) matchups for the Zags that would make for an excellent game.
Steven: Gonzaga matches up better with Baylor than they do with Michigan IMO, so I guess it depends on what you mean by “prefer.” I would prefer them to face Michigan because I think the game would be absolutely fascinating. But I think others might want to face Baylor because they can exploit their size inside. Really can’t go wrong either way because both of those match-ups would be in the National Title game.
KY: One other thing to keep in mind about Michigan fans. If you’re annoyed with the noise coming from their fanbase, just know that the thing they care about most is their football team which has spectacularly underwhelmed for the last 20 years and failed to meet expectations. Take comfort in knowing they are just lashing out because they’re hurting deep inside from the failures of their football team.
PW: The number of times I’ve been told “Gonzaga doesn’t even have a football team” as an insult in the past 36 hours is staggering.
KY: Mark Few commented after last week’s Santa Clara game that Ben Gregg has earned his trust and some more minutes. Is he ahead of Oumar Ballo now? Are you comfortable with him being thrust into meaningful minutes during the tournament if there’s foul trouble in front of him?
SK: I think it depends on the match-up. Ideally, Timme and Watson stay out of foul trouble and they just keep their normal seven-man rotation. But if the lineup requires a little more finesse and some shooting, then I would be okay with Gregg for a couple minutes. If they’re facing a dominant big man, I think I would prefer Ballo to be in there. But either way, for Gregg to make this much progress in such a short amount of time is pretty remarkable. I really thought there was no shot he would play meaningful minutes this season and he’s already got the trust of the staff, so that’s quite a sign for the future.
PW: I think the only real advantage Oumar Ballo has over Ben Gregg at this point is that he is just a much larger human being. Gregg has grown up playing American ball, watching college ball, definitely watching Gonzaga play. I think inherently he arrives with a better grasp of the system and how to operate within it. Ballo is talented, no doubt about it, and I have the utmost faith that the coaching staff will get him to fully realize it, but I think that Gregg is going to provide you with five fouls to absorb and a bit more versatility on the offensive end.
Realistically, if we are in a situation in which Ballo or Gregg is coming in for meaningful minutes in the first half in the tournament, it is going to be bad news bears for Gonzaga, so we’ll have bigger problems on our hands.
SK: It will be interesting to see if Few/Tommy Lloyd allow Timme or Watson to play with two fouls. They let Watson play with two fouls against Santa Clara and he picked up his third, which is why Gregg ended up playing first half minutes. So it seems like there is a willingness to play guys even with two fouls, and Ballo and Gregg are absolute emergencies.
KY: Gregg certainly deserves a ton of credit for playing his way into consideration in just two months, but the Tournament is a different beast. For his part, Ballo has not looked sharp in his brief cameos since his hand injury. I think the staff needs to keep riding the two-foul trust train with Timme and Watson.
Will there be any surprises during the WCC Tournament on either the men’s or women’s side?
SK: I’ll call my shot now: San Francisco makes a run to the semi-finals as an 8 seed before losing to Gonzaga. Shades of what San Diego did with Isaiah Pineiro, Isaiah Wright, and Olin Carter in 2019. Two very talented teams that dealt with injuries (pauses in USF’s case) but put it all together for a nice run in Vegas. Just gotta beat San Diego, LMU, and Saint Mary’s, and I don’t see why they can’t beat all three.
KY: Ohhh, I like that. I hate to put any amount of faith in a Lorenzo Romar squad coming through, but my prediction is that Gonzaga will see the Waves in the final after they survive a close one against Santa Clara and nick a second win against BYU.
PW: On the women’s side, I don’t think so. The top of the conference (Gonzaga and BYU) are so far above the rest of everyone, although I guess BYU’s dud against USF to close out WCC play isn’t exactly inspiring, I think that we will see a championship game between those two teams. On the men’s side, Pepperdine knocked off BYU once before—and the Cougars are probably an at-large team even with a loss there. The Waves have played most of their WCC opponents not named Gonzaga pretty closely.
SK: Wow. A double dose of faith in Romar!
KY: A sign of the end times, surely.
PW: Not sure I’d call it faith as me forcing an answer to Keith’s question. Honestly, I think we’ll see Gonzaga and BYU in both championship games. For ultimate WCC superiority.
SK: I wish times were normal because Gonzaga-BYU games in Vegas are absolutely electric. No offense to Saint Mary’s, but the atmosphere is way better when BYU plays.
KY: I hope all 12 SMC fans come after you.